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Making it in America

Our region has historically been a place for families from around the world to make a new home, and the population continues to grow. Since 2021 over 400 Afghans have resettled in the Roanoke and New River valleys as part of the mass exodus that resulted from the United States military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after its 20-year war that followed the 9/11 attacks. Local organizations like Blacksburg Refugee Partnership  played a key role in helping to resettle refugees like the Afghan military women and their families who served with the U.S. Special Forces fighting the Taliban.


After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, area residents were able to bring family members from the war-torn nation to southwest Virginia under President Biden’s Uniting for Ukraine program.  Jenya Yevheniia Shulym and her 7-year-old  son, Egor fled their home in the Russian-occupied city of Enerhodar, Ukraine, which is home of the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. The two straddled two worlds as they made a new home in Roanoke County and learned to speak English.


Other stories from the two-year-long fellowship include a Congolese refugee family that learned to navigate the Roanoke City Public School system, as their children learned English and a new culture. More than 70 different languages are spoken by Roanoke City School students, and programs for English learners have expanded over the years. 

This body of work shares the individual stories of newcomers to our region through visual journalism and was my focus as a fellow for two years with The Secular Society, a Blacksburg-based nonprofit. Covering these stories of resilience, love and culture from the past two years help remind me to be thankful for all that I have.


Many immigrants and refugees might fall through the cracks if not for the community support systems in place to help them, but they have been some of the strongest, most motivated people I’ve met. Despite having to start over from scratch, the people I’ve met are determined to make a better life for themselves.

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